Leonardo da Vinci is known all over the world as the creator of Mona Lisa and for his inventions which were much ahead of his time. However this article informs you not about his achievements. Instead we look at things you probably didn’t know about this multi-talented genius. Here are 10 fun facts about Da Vinci including why he wrote backwards, which instrument he played, what he looked like and his sense of fashion.

For Leonardo da Vinci’s life and achievements, please refer to this article.

 

#1 His father made a profit from a painting Da Vinci made as a kid

When da Vinci was young, a local peasant requested his father, Ser Piero, to have a round shield painted for him. Leonardo took to the task and painted on the shield a monster spitting fire, which was so terrifying and brilliant that his father made a profit by selling the shield, through an art dealer, to the Duke of Milan. As for the peasant, Ser Piero bought a decorated shield and gave it to him.

A sample of Leonardo's handwriting
A sample of Leonardo’s handwriting

#2 Da Vinci wrote backwards probably because it was convenient for him

Leonardo wrote most of his notes backwards in what is called mirror writing, i.e., it appears normal when it is reflected in a mirror. Earlier scholars believed that Leonardo wrote in mirror writing for reasons of secrecy but now more historians agree that he did so because being left handed it was easier for him to write from right to left. When left handed people write they have to curl their hands around what they have written in order to read what they write. Leonardo, being such an innovative person, probably wrote backwards as it was easier and ‘less messy’ for him.

Lyre
Lyre was Da Vinci’s official instrument

#3 Only a few of his paintings survive

Only about 15 of Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings survive. His constant experimentation with new techniques of painting led to many of his works being spoiled and his chronic procrastination led to many unfinished works. He was also a perfectionist who destroyed many of his own works.

#4 He was a dyslexic

Da Vinci was a dyslexic and a vegetarian. He also liked to purchase birds and then set them free. Leonardo’s love of animals is well known. He questioned the morality of eating animals when it was not necessary for health, which is remarkable because he did so in the 15th century.

#5 He could play all stringed instruments of his time

Leonardo da Vinci loved music. Although his official musical instrument was the lyre, it is said that he could play any stringed instrument of his time. However no written record of his music survives and it is not certain whether he composed music or not.

 

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist
The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist

#6 Bill Gates owns Da Vinci’s only work in private hands

The only major scientific work of Leonardo which is in private hands is The Codex Leicester. Bill Gates bought the Codex Leicester in 1994 for $30 million. This manuscript includes da Vinci’s studies on hydraulics and the movement of water. It is displayed once a year in different cities around the world.

#7 His paintings were much appreciated during his time

Leonardo created the cartoon of The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist, a work that won such admiration that “men and women, young and old” flocked to see it “as if they were attending a great festival”.

#8 Da Vinci had an unusual sense of fashion for his time

From descriptions and portraits it appears that Da Vinci was tall, athletic and handsome. His choice of clothes was unusual for his times as he didn’t wear long garments which most mature men wore. Rather he preferred wearing a short tunic and hose which was usually worn by younger men. His choice of bright colours for his clothing was also unusual during his times. As an older man he wore a long beard, when most men were shaven or had close-cropped beards. His hairs were also longer than the norm.

Self Potrait - Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci – Self Potrait in Red Chalk

#9 It is said that his self-portrait possesses magical powers

The portrait of a man in red chalk in Turin is widely accepted as a self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci. It is thought that Leonardo da Vinci drew this self-portrait at about the age of 60 but deliberately aged himself. The portrait has been extensively reproduced and has become an iconic representation of Leonardo as a polymath or “Renaissance Man”. There are several myths associated with the painting like it transfers great strength to those who observe it. It was secretly moved from Turin to Rome during World War II and some say that this was done to prevent Hitler from acquiring magic powers through the painting.

#10 His believed in humility, awareness and endeavour

Some of Leonardo’s philosophies can be found in a series of fables that he wrote. Prevalent themes include the dangers of an inflated sense of self-worth, often as described in opposition to the benefits that one can gain through awareness, humility and endeavour.

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